Songs of the sea; little poems for lazy language learners like me

Whenever I am in a Romance language country I get all enthusiastic and buy little anthologies of poetry, short stories or wot-not, thinking they will help me to soon conquer the language and familiarise myself with the local giants of literature. Then when I get home I stack them in my bookcases and never read them. I have so many pristine books!

Sophia Mello Breyner Andresen, retrato a crayo...

Sophia Mello Breyner Andresen, retrato a crayon por Bottelho da série Wiki . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was last in Lisbon I came across a little volume of poetry by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (impressive name, don’t you think?) entitled Shores, Horizons, Voyages (Orchid Press, 2005). Great, I thought, my economy class luggage allowance will allow me to slip this lightweight tome into my suitcase. The title sounded appealing – I like shores, horizons, voyages. I love to travel! Even better, the poems had been translated into English by one Rui Cascais Parada, so I wouldn’t have to look up any words in the dictionary because good old Rui has done that already. The foreword said Sophia (who was born in Porto in 1919 and died in 2004) is “one of the most universal, approachable, poetic voices of modern Portuguese literature”. Great, I thought, her poetry is “approachable” – I might be able to understand it. And she has won lots of prizes, so she must be good. I bought the book.

I don’t know much about Sophia, but, like many Portuguese, she seemed to have a love affair with the sea. Indeed, she seems to have spent much of her time, judging by her poems, roaming alone on the sea shore, ruminating. Like she was obsessed with it. I don’t think she was anything like the typical social surfie chicks of today who, y’know, like to hang out with the boys and wax their surfboards and all that stuff (well at least, I think that is what they do. For the first three decades of my life I lived far from the sea so I have no idea what the surfie scene is like, really, to be honest, but I don’t think it involves serious poetry.) However, if you read her brief biography on Wikipedia (click on her full name, above) you will see that Sophia seems to have led quite an active and varied life.

English: The sea lashing its waves at high tide

I can understand Sophia’s outlook. The winds and waters of the west coast of Portugal, more so than the south coast, can be rough and wild, and the beaches there are often good places for those who seek solitude or a bit of space to themselves. They must have been even more isolated in Sophia’s youth than they are today, when the local population is bigger and tourism is a booming business.

Anyway, here is one of my favourite poems by Sophie: I like it because it is only two lines long. 🙂 It’s called Inscrição/Inscription:

Quando eu morrer voltarei para buscar
Os instantes que não vivi junto do mar

And here is Rui’s translation

When I die I shall return to fetch back
The instants I didn’t live by the sea

Let’s try another: this one doesn’t have a title:

As ondas quebravam uma a uma
Eu estava só com a areia e com a espuma
Do mar que cantava só para mim.

Now for Rui’s interpretation:

The waves crashed one by one
I was alone with the sand and with the spray
Of the sea that sang only for me.

Well, that wasn’t too mentally taxing, was it? We might attempt a four-liner next time. In the meantime, back she goes on the bookshelf.


Vital words for survival in Romania

Soft ice cream

Of all the words I learnt while doing my summer language course in Romania recently, this one was by far the most important: îngheţată. It means ice-cream. The past summer in Europe was very hot at times, and when you are on the go, an ice-cream cone for 2 or 3 lei (that’s the plural of the local currency, the leu) is a quick refresher. On the streets of Sibiu, there were lots of ice-cream machines in the squares and pedestrian alleyways, staffed by bored-looking teenagers. A local explained to me that Romanians had only recently discovered these machines, most of which were from Italy. It seems, though, that Romania hasn’t yet discovered milkshakes. Come on, Romanians, get with it! There is a fortune to be made selling milkshakes during a hot summer. Just get the îngheţată and add lapte (milk). Sometimes ice-cream cones cannot quench a thirst.

Îngheţată is a funny word, quite unlike its equivalents in the other Romance languages covered in this blog; In French, ice-cream is glace, in Italian it is gelato, in Spanish it’s helado, and in Portuguese it is gelado, although in Brazil they tend to use sorvete (prounced ‘sorvetchy’) which is possibly related to sorbet. The Romanian word comes from the verb a îngheţa, meaning to freeze, and îngheţat and îngheţată are the masculine and feminine singular forms of the adjective frozenA îngheţa de frig means, literally, to freeze of cold; in other words, to freeze to death. Cheerful stuff, hey!

Coffee with Sugar

Coffee with sugar. (Photo credit: JB London)

If, like me, you are a coffee drinker, two other important words are fără and zahăr, meaning, repectively, without and sugar. This is because a lot of the coffee in convenience stores and suchlike in Romania is available only from self-service machines, and if you like your coffee sweet, you don’t want to press the fără zahăr button. Your coffee will be yuk! Zahăr extra is more my style. Obviously you get proper coffee at cafes and the more sophisticated outlets, but the machine coffee wasn’t too bad, although I suspect that the fact that I always opted for zahăr extra helped disguise the taste. (The best coffee I have ever had, incidentally, was in Portugal. And I am not talking about one particular cup at a particular cafe, I mean consistently good coffee everywhere.)

Peeping tomI suppose one other important thing to know when you are new to Romania and looking for a toilet is that bărbaţi means men and femei means women. You might expect “men” to be rather like the French hommes or Portuguese homens, and there is a possibility, I suppose, that a women might think that bărbaţi is for, um, barbie girls or something and she will just barge into the gents, so be warned. It is not intuitive. Romanian does have the word om, for man, person or, more colloquially, a guy, and oameni, for people, but doesn’t use those words on toilet doors. Another related word is omenire, meaning mankind. I rather like the word bărbaţi, it sounds masculine and conjures up images of barbers, barbershops, beards and barbarians. I quite like being un bărbat. There is a nice adjective, too, bărbărtesc, meaning manly. The feminine form of this, by the way, in case you want to describe a manly woman, is bărbărtească. Of course, if the toilet uses matchstick men and women signs rather than words then you don’t have to worry about anything unless your eyesight is not particularly good. Talking of signs, I love the one of the Peeping Tom. It is typical bărbărtesc behaviour, don’t you think? 🙂

Here’s to everyone you remember fondly

Today, we are going to dabble in Italian. “To dabble in”, incidentally, in Italian is “dilettarsi“, and a “dabbler” is “dilettante“, a word which, as in English, can be pejorative. But just because I am dabbling in Italian now does not mean I am a dilettante, OK!

Ana Moura, fadista

Ana Moura, fadista (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On my travels to Central and Eastern Europe recently, rather than watch films for 20-plus hours (Australia is so far away!), I decided to give my eyes a rest from computer screens and damage my hearing instead. So I sat back and listened to Emirates’ world music selection, particularly in the Romance languages. Well, they didn’t have any Romanian music, their Portuguese selection was limited to Ana Moura’s 2012 album Desfado, which on first listening didn’t do much for me. But I have a feeling I have seen Ana Moura live, either in a well-known fado club in Lisbon in 2007, when there were a number of singers on the bill, or in Tavira in 2011. I will have to look up my travel diaries. I do think her fado songs are worth investigating. On Desfado, though, she is branching out into other genres, including singing in English. I shall give it another go at some stage.

Emirates also had a Brazilian mix by a DJ whose taste was a bit way out there. Way, way out. There wasn’t much in the way of Spanish, the French was a bit predictable (Johnny Hallyday, Françoise Hardy, etc), but there was enough Italian to dabble in, including a selection of Laura Pausini, who is a great singer to follow if you are interested in Romance languages (see my post on her here). Of course, Emirates had a great selection in Arabic and Asian languages, and also Turkish, which I listened to. Surprisingly, Turkish women can really rock! I was impressed.

Back to Italian. I was intrigued to see the song Inno by a singer who has been in the spotlight since the late 1970s, Gianna Nannini. I thought it would be a modern version of the haunting song of the same name by Mia Martini (Bruce Millar used the melody on his hit, “I Won’t Give Up”, and you can hear them both on my blog here). However, this was an entirely new song, the title track of an album she released earlier this year. I think it’s great. Have a listen.

You don’t really have to understand Italian very well to know that this is a song about very fond memories of a loved one. Their eyes meet in the street, he (or she) smiles and says hello … so the story begins.

Gianna has a great husky voice: she sounds like a woman who has smoked a lot of cigarettes, drunk a lot of wine in good company in cosy taverns, laughed a lot, had great passionate affairs etc etc. I am not casting aspersions. Maybe she is quite the opposite. All I am saying is that on this song at least she sounds like she has lived life to the full, and she is still full of joie de vivre. Good on her! As the song itself says, how good it is to live. I hope that’s how you feel too. In the video at the very bottom of the post, Gianna discusses the song and the rest of the album.

Pasted underneath are the lyrics to Inno that I have found on various lyric websites, but there is something not quite right in one line, and all the websites seem to make the same mistake. Of course, you can paste these lyrics in an online translation site and as usual it will throw up some nonsense translation (like the one I have posted at the bottom). In Italian I must admit I am a dilettante, an amateur enthusiast but a bit ignorant. Still, with the help of my dictionaries and the website, which can do some useful analysis of verbs and grammar, I shall give the more important vocabulary after each verse, which should help your understanding of the song.

Mi ricordo di te,
Ti raggiungo ad occhi chiusi
Mi ricordo di te, per la strada mi incontrerai
Mi ricordo di te, ogni estate sono qua
Mi ricordo di te, tu sorridi e mi dici ciao

Ricordare = to remember; raggiungere = to catch up with someone; a occhi chiusi = with one’s eyes closed (incidentally, an eye is ochi in Romanian, or ochii in the plural); la strada = the street; incontrare = to meet; ogni = each, every, all; estate = summer; qua = here

Che bello è vivere
se vivere è con te,
ora soffia il vento e soffia via con te

Che bello = how nice, good, beautiful; vivere = to live; se = if; con = with;  ora = hour, time, now; vento = wind ; soffiare = to blow

Mi ricordo di te, la tua voce la mia
Mi ricordo di te, e non voglio mandarti via

voce = voice, opinion, word, term; non voglio = I don’t want; volere = to want; mandare = to send; via = away (also means road, route; way, means)

Che bello è vivere
se vivere è per te,
ora soffia il vento (…….????????)

Mi ricordo di te sorso d’acqua tra le dita,
se ti stringo vai via, pioggia o lacrima
tornerai so che tornerai

un sorso = a sip; sorsare, sorseggiare = to sip; acqua = water ; dito/dita = finger/s; stringere = to grip/hold tightly; poggia = rain; o = or; lacrima = tear/teardrop; tornare = to return.

Nel tempo che verrà, nel buio che cadrà
è vita sempre tornerà
Nel tempo che verrà, nel freddo che sarà,
sei vita quasi libertà
Mi ricordo di te

Nel = in the; tempo = time; venire = to come; buio = darkness; cadere = to fall; vita = life; freddo = cold, coldness;


I remember you,
I’ll catch up with your eyes closed
I remember you, I’ll meet in the street
I remember you, I’m here every summer
I remember you, you smile at me and say hello

How nice it is to live
if living is with you,
Now the wind blows and blows away with you

I remember you, your voice my
I remember you, and I will not send you away

How nice it is to live
if living is for you,
Now the wind blows and blows away with you

I remember you sip of water between the fingers,
if I hold you go on, rain or tear
I know you’ll come back come back

In time to come, the darkness will fall
is life always come back
In time to come, which will be in the cold,
are life liberty almost
I remember you

Here (in Italian) Gianna discusses the album at a press conference, and you can hear extracts from other songs on it.

The B words are the best

B is for beer, and what better beer is there than Bernard? None. Bernard's the best!

B is for beer, and what better beer is there than Bernard? None. Bernard’s unBeatable.  Bernard’s good for breakfast, Bernard’s good for BBQs, Bernard’s bloody good in bed. As one bedazzled beer reviewer bellowed, “No beer has better body than Bernard.”

In many languages, the words beginning with B seem to go to onomatopoeic extremes: they cover everything that’s good and bad about humanity. In English, for example, on the negative side, there are words such as bad, brutal, barbaric, beastly, behead, bibulous, banal, bitchy, brute, betray, belch and burp. On the good side, though, there is beauty, bliss, benefactors, birthdays, benefits, barbecues and blessings, not to mention bars, bacchanalia, babefests, breasts, boobs, blonds, bosom buddies, beer and beefcakes. And in the Romance languages the same positive vibes apply: think of words such as beau, bon, bonjour, bon vivant, belle, beleza, bom, bueno, buono, bene, bine, buna… Plus, of course, there is Bernardo (me!) a bright n’ breezy bastion of benevolence, bonhomie, brawn and brains and (bygone) beauty. What more can I say?

Every now and then I thumb through my five Romance language dictionaries at random, looking for odd words that tickle my fancy, appeal to my sense of humour, or just have a musical sound. Here are some breezy Bs:

FRENCH: une bergeronnette, noun feminine, a wagtail. OK, you are never likely to need this word unless you are a bird watcher, but it has a nice ring to it. Betty and the Bergeronnettes would be a great name for a pop group.

ITALIAN: uno bastoncino, noun masculine, a small stick or rod or ski pole; bastoncini de pesce, fish fingers.

PORTUGUESE: bisbilhotar, verb, 1) to scheme, complicate, intrigue; 2) to chatter, gossip; 3) to whisper; 4) to examine, investigate, inquire into. um bisbilhoteiro, uma bisbilhoteira, noun masculine, feminine, an intriguer, tell-tale, gossiper, meddler.

ROMANIAN: băgăcios, băgăcioasă, adjective, masculine, feminine, intrusive, interfering, (self-) assertive; a băga, verb, to shove, dig, jab, tuck, put; a se băga, verb, reflexive, to get involved in, to impose oneself on.

SPANISH: un barrabás, noun masculine, a scoundrel; una barrabasada, noun feminine, a dirty trick.

B is also for bloke in bikini

B is also for, um, bosom buddies.

Meet Anton, the musically gifted son of a blobfish

An Australian thing has been named the world’s ugliest creature and I can assure you it wasn’t me. The honours went to the blobfish. Take a look…

Do you think I'm sexy

Not only am I ugly but I have got dribble coming out of my mouth! Gimme a kiss.

I certainly believe in evolution because it really does look like that at some stage in the passing of time a blobfish morphed into my favourite classical composer, Anton Bruckner. Take a look…


Yes, Anton wasn’t a particularly handsome chappie, and he never managed to convince a woman to marry him, but he composed some truly wonderful music. But back to the blobfish: reports of its triumph in the ugly pageant made headlines all around the world. Just do an internet search for blobfish and you find out all about it and which other animals received accolades for their ugliness. A New Zealand creature came second! It wasn’t a good outcome for the Antipodes.

Why not test your skills in my five Romance languages by reading each one of the reports I have collated here? Since it is all on the same topic and much of the information is from the same press release, you should be able to make some sense of it. Start with the language you are most comfortable with and then increase the degree of difficulty.

  • A report in French from Le Huffington Post is here, headlined: Animal le plus moche du monde : le blobfish, poisson des abysses, remporte le concours (The ugliest animal in the world: the blobfish, a deepwater fish, wins the competition).
  • A report in Spanish from is here, headlined: El Blobfish es el nuevo animal más feo del mundo (The blobfish is the newly crowned most ugly animal in the world).
  • A report in Portuguese from is here, headlined: Conheça o Blobfish, o animal mais feio do planeta (Meet the blobfish, the ugliest animal on the planet).
  • Now to a report in Italian here from, which used the headline: L’animale più brutto del Mondo? E’ il Blobfish, il pesce “triste” (The ugliest animal in the world? It’s the blobfish, the ‘sad’ fish).
  • Finally, here is the Romanian coverage, from, which used this headline: A fost votat cel mai urât animal din lume. Vezi cum arată (It was voted the ugliest animal in the world. See how it looks).

Note how none of these languages seems to have a word for blobfish; that’s because they’ve never seen these ugly creatures before in their lives. They don’t want any blobfish in their territorial waters, their fish tanks or in their lexicon. And who can blame them?

Now let’s discuss some related vocabulary, and while we are doing let’s make it up to Anton Bruckner. How dare anyone compare him to a blobfish! Let’s play the item below as a sign of respect. It’s the revised (he revised his work constantly) third movement of his fourth symphony, it’s only about 10 minutes long and it’s very catchy in a pa-pom-pa-pom-pa-pom kind of way. The little interlude in a very different vein from the 4:30 to 6:10 mark is one of the loveliest snippets of music ever composed, in my opinion. And at the bottom of this post, the conductor Simon Rattle discusses how to interpret Bruckner and his music, it’s well worth listening to.


How do you say “ugly” in my five Romances?

  • In French it’s moche, as used by Le Huffington Post, but you can also say laid (or laide in the feminine singular) – yes laid blokes and laide chicks do get laid, haha. C’est d’un laid means “it’s hideous!”, so does est d’une laideur, while un laideron means an ugly girl or Plain Jane, while moche comme um pou would be translated into English as “as ugly as sin” but it literally means as ugly as a louse (les poux = lice).
  • In Portuguese it’s feio or feia in the feminine singular. You can say feio como o pecado or como o diabo, which means as ugly as sin or as ugly as the devil. Um patinho feio is an ugly duckling, and fazer feio means to cut a sorry figure.
  • In Spanish it’s feo or fea, and again más feo que un pecado means as ugly as sin. You can also say más feo que Picio, except I have no idea who this Picio is who is famed for his ugliness. There is a short entry on him in the Spanish Wikipedia here. Un patito feo is an ugly duckling.
  • In Italian the word for ugly is brutto, and the Italian expression for as ugly as sin is actually as ugly as hunger – brutto come la fame. An ugly duckling is un brutto anatroccolo.
  • In Romanian it’s urât (urâtâ in its feminine singular form). Din cauza vremii urâte (that’s the feminine plural form) means due to bad weather(s). Mi-e urât means I feel lonely, which seems to suggest that as far as Romanians are concerned, only ugly people can feel lonely.

And how do you say blob?

Most often, it seems the Romance language equivalent is the word for drop or droplet.

  • In French my dictionary offers une grosse gouette, gouette being a drop, grosse meaning big.
  • In Portuguese it’s uma gota (drop, blob or tear, also gout) or uma bolha (blister, pimple, bubble, or in Brazilian Portuguese, an annoying person).
  • In Spanish it’s also una gota, or un borrón (blot, blemish, smudge).
  • In Italian it’s una goccia, similar to gota in Spanish and Portuguese.
  • In Romanian it’s also the word for drop, o picâturâ.

Over to Simon Rattle’s thoughts on what is probably Bruckner’s most popular symphony…

The Blue Sharks are out but could come back in

verdeplayerSo much for Cape Verde being so close to becoming the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup football finals, in Brazil next year (see a previous post here). The sport’s world governing body, FIFA, has booted the island nation out of contention and given the opportunity to Tunisia instead. Apparently Cape Verde’s Fernando Varela (pictured right, in blue – the team’s nickname is Os Tubarões Azuis, or the Blue Sharks) was not eligible to play in the 2-0 win over Tunisia, and FIFA has overturned that result, stripped Cape Verde of the 3 points and awarded Tunisia a 3-0 victory instead.

This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened in the African qualifiers, and you have to wonder at the competence of the football officials involved. Ironically, earlier in the campaign Cabo Verde had benefited from a similar decision in March, having a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Equatorial Guinea turned into a victory in their favour when it was deemed that Equatorial Guinea had also used an ineligible player. That was the match in which Varela got sent off “for unsporting conduct towards a match official”, and thus earned the suspension in question. With so much at stake, these sort of silly administrative errors should not happen at the highest level. Varela, too, must take some of the blame for getting sent off int he first place. What a letdown for the fans (the Cape Verde ones, not the Tunisians).

However, you can be sure this won’t be the last development in the saga. Cape Verde have just announced they will appeal against the decision. According to this report, the argument is that because the match in which Varela got sent off was annulled, he didn’t have to serve out a four-game suspension after all. And according to the president of the Federação Cabo-Verdiana de Futebol (FCF), Mário Semedo, Varela was not on the FIFA list of players who were ineligible to play against Tunisia.

What a mess! Que confusão!

I have pasted below and done a rough translation of excerpts from a news report of FIFA’s ruling from, but the full article is here. There is a BBC report in English here if you are interested. To sharpen your Portuguese, read the earlier euphoric report from a Cape Verde website Brava News of the match against Tunisia here, but so far the website has not posted news of the disqualification. Brava is one of the smallest of the islands in the group.

FIFA afasta Cabo Verde dos play-off

FIFA expel Cape Verde from play-off

Cabo Verde está fora dos play-off de acesso ao Mundial 2014. Os Tubarões Azuis foram punidos com derrota, na sequência do protesto apresentado pela Tunísia, alegando utilização irregular de um jogador por parte de Cabo Verde, na vitória dos crioulos sobre os magrebinos por 2-0. A FIFA deu razão à Tunísia que assim soma 14 pontos, ganha o grupo B e vai aos play-off.

Cape Verde are out of the play-off for a place at the 2014 World Cup. The Blue Sharks were punished with a defeat, following a protest by Tunisia alleging the use of an ineligible player by Cape Verde, in the Creoles’ 2-0 victory over the Maghrebs. FIFA ruled in favour of Tunisia, who thus go onto 14 points, win group B and go into the play-off ….

….Na base da decisão está a utilização irregular de Fernando Varela frente as Águias do Cartago que Cabo Verde venceu por 2-0.

The decision was based on the irregular use of Fernando Varela against the Eagles of Carthage, whom Cape Verde beat 2-0.

O jogador viu um vermelho direto frente a Guiné Equatorial por conduta anti-desportiva, na derrota em Malabo por 4-3 … [e] deveria cumprir quatro jogos de suspensão, mas apenas ficou de fora nos encontros com a Guiné Equatorial e Serra Leoa em casa. Frente a Tunísia, deveria cumprir o seu terceiro jogo de castigo…

The player was given a red card against Equitorial Guinea for unsporting conduct in the 4-3 loss in Malabo .. and had to serve a four-match suspension, but only sat out the two encounters at home against Equitorial Guinea and Sierra Leone. The match against Tunisia should have been the third in the suspension… 

So, it looks like it will be Cape Verde’s lawyers v Tunisia’s lawyers that will decide the outcome. It’s bound to be a penalty shoot-out after extra time. Some of the lawyers will probably get sent off too for unsporting conduct.

Let’s all chant

shoutEvery four years, as you well know, people from all over the world gather in one country so that they can chant insults at referees, asking them if they are blind or just plain stupid or what, and telling them that they are the sons not of nuns or veterinary surgeons or nurses and other respectable professions, but sons of, ahem, pardon my French, bitches and whores.That’s right, it is the World Cup soccer, and next year these colourful slanging matches will take place in 12 cities around Brazil.

ITALY'S DI LIVIO LOOKS OVER AT TEAM MATE VIERI AS REFEREE MORENO GIVES A RED CARD IN EXTRA TIME IN MATCH AGAINST SOUTH KOREA IN TAEJONSo, after the latest round of qualifying matches this week, what sort of insults can we expect to hear? Well, the Italians will definitely be there, they are very good at this sort of thing and regularly make the finals. In fact, they have won it four times. The Dutch, too. Three times runners-up, could they go one step further and win the elusive title this time? The Americans will be there once again, but will have to be a bit more inventive than just calling the men in black muthaf–kers. That is so passé. Costa Ricans have once again gained a spot, but they are far too polite to be considered serious contenders.

FBL-AFR2008-CAN-GHA-GUIBelgium, Germany and Switzerland have dominated their groups and are just one verbal punch away from officially joining the fray. This means that the Croatians, who are quite capable of colourful language, will most probably have to settle for the play-offs. So too will Sweden (unless they get a tongue lashing from Austria next month) and either Bulgaria or Denmark.

young fanElsewhere Hungary, Romania and Turkey are still in with a chance of a play-off spot in their volatile group; Iceland, Slovenia, Norway and Albania are vying for another play-off place. In another wide open group, England, Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland are contending for an automatic qualifying spot and a place in the play-offs.

In the remaining European groups, the top two places are settled and it is just a matter of seeing who finishes on top (thus qualifying for the finals) and who comes second (thus having to face a play-off against a runner-up from another group). The pairings are: Russia/Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina/Greece; and Spain/France.

In other parts of the world, Honduras are almost home and hosed, meaning Mexico and Panama will have to fight for the right to play off against New Zealand. In the Asian play-off Jordan drew with Uzbekistan 1-1 but triumphed on penalties and will now play off against the fifth-placed team from South America. That will be tough because South Americans are really good at flinging insults at referees. It’s a national past-time on that continent. The next round of South American matches will be a cracker. Second-placed Colombia (26 points) host third-placed Chile (24 points), and fourth-placed Ecuador host fifth-placed Uruguay (both on 22 points). Expect fireworks in those games, they could get nasty. Who would want to be the referee?

Gotta go now. I am teaching the Australian team how to swear in Portuguese. It’s hard work, these buggers are friggin’ hopeless.

Altogether now everybody ….”Filho de puuuuuuutaaa!”

For immediate results, wait

Sala_de_asteptareOne Romanian word that soon became a favourite among my classmates doing a summer language course in Sibu, Transylvania, was “imediat“. Look it up in a Romanian-English dictionary and you will find that it is both an adjective meaning “immediate”, and an adverb meaning “immediately”. In Romanian, as a general rule, each syllable is given equal stress, so when someone says “imediat” it does sound punchy and emphatic, like they mean it. I can imagine a Romanian sergeant-major bellowing out that word to a terrified subordinate, whereas I can’t really picture an English sergeant-major yelling “immediately”, to the same effect. The English word seems a little lame next to its Romanian counterpart.

However, in practice, as we discovered, “imediat” can have many subtle meanings, depending on the situation. Let’s look at its application in Romanian restaurants, for example.

  • Ask for a menu, and when the waiter (chelner) or waitress (chelneriţă) says “imediat“, this means they will bring it in about five minutes.
  • Having finally been given the menu, you study it and make your choice. Then comes the game of spot the chelner or chelneriţă. They seem to have vanished! Finally one appears in the distance. You wave energetically to indicate that you are ready to give your order. The chelner/ chelneriţă nods and says “imediat” and scurries off to another table. This means they will come back to take your order in about 10 minutes.
  • You are in a hurry and need to eat something quickly. You ask the chelner/ chelneriţă how long it will take to bring a salată or salad. The answer is “imediat“. This means it will take about 15 minutes. Yes, that’s right, 15 minutes to shred some lettuce and chuck some tomatoes and cucumber and maybe some cheese on top of it.
  • Now you are in a real hurry. You have wolfed down your salată and want to pay the notă de plată (bill). You play spot the chelneriţă once again. There she is, scurrying to every other table but yours! You wave once, you wave twice, but she is as blind as un liliac (a bat). Eventually you accost her. You’ve gotta go, you need the bill. Yes, yes, she understands, imediat! This means she will rush over with your bill in about eight minutes.

cartoon-chefI might be exaggerating, I might not. In Romania, like everywhere else, in some places you get great service, in others you don’t. Sibiu is one of Romania’s top tourist destinations, in summer it holds many festivals and more often than not it is packed. In the fortnight I was there, there was a huge international folkloric dance festival and a gothic rock festival, and the place was teeming with tourists. Every night the restaurants and cafes were crowded, and the poor staff were rushed off their feet. Well, most of them, not all. I remember waiting in one restaurant (I was the customer, not a staff member on duty!) for what seemed like an awfully long time for the food to arrive. Our table had a good view of the kitchen and we could see the solitary bucătar (cook) or bucătar-şef (chef) in action. We soon understood why things were a little bit slow. Every now and then when the chelneriţă came in with an order, the bucătar would down tools and gave her a good snog. That’s right, he dropped his tongs and gave her tongue! He lowered his splatter guard and splattered her! He couldn’t keep his oven mitts off her! Still, they do say that food made with love is the tastiest, and that all things come to those who wait…  

To wait in Romanian, you should know, since you might be doing a lot of it, is a aştepta, and a aştepta cu nerăbdare means to look forward to, as in I can hardly wait… although literally it means “to wait with impatience” (răbdare is patience, and răbdător is the adjective meaning patient). From this you should guess that the sala de aşteptare sign at the top of the post is the hospital/doctor waiting room.

To hurry or hurry up is a se grăbi, and if you want to say ‘I am in a hurry’ it is Mă grăbesc. (An easy way to remember this, perhaps, is when you are in a hurry you just grab a bite to eat.)

The moral of the story, I think, is never be in a hurry or impatient in Romania, or anywhere else for that matter. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the moment. And the next moment. The many moments. Say to yourself, Nu pot să mă plăngI can’t complain.

Here’s a song for you. It is has got nothing to do with Romance languages, it just came to mind while I was writing this post.

Pa pa (bye bye)

Minnows one step closer to World Cup finals debut

LOGO_BRASIL_20141September is a crucial month for those teams still in the running to earn a place at the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil next year. At the weekend, the 10 second-round winners from Africa were finalised, and they will now go into a play-off to produce the final five that will be on there in Brazil. The most notable success was that of Portuguese-speaking Cape Verde, a little archipelago of 10 islands in the Atlantic, with a population of 500,000. It’s high on my list of places that I would like to visit. Cape Verde won 2-0 in Tunisia, gaining three points to take their total to 12, thus leapfrogging the North African giants (who had previously qualified for four World Cups) to finish in top spot. Tunisia ended up with 11 and only had to draw to go through to the next round. If Cape Verde do go through I am sure they will be among the sentimental favourites or darling teams of the tournament.

Chugging along nicely ... Cape Verde are just one match away from qualifying for the World Cup for the first time.

Chugging along nicely … Cape Verde are just one match away from making it to the World Cup finals for the first time.

Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt and Algeria had already made sure of winning their groups, but there were nail-biting finishes to the other groups. In Group A, Ethiopia, another team hoping to make their first appearance in the World Cup finals, won in the Central African Republic to stay 2 points ahead of South Africa, who thumped Botswana. So that is another surprise outcome, and a big letdown for South Africa, who hosted the last tournament in 2010. There were four matches in which the away teams had to beat the host teams to overtake them at the top of the table, but Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Cameroon capitalised on their home ground advantage to beat Zambia, Malawi, Uganda and Libya respectively. In Group E, Congo must be kicking themselves after they stumbled at the final hurdle, only drawing 2-2 in Niger and allowing Burkina Faso to go top by 1 point after they beat Gabon 1-0 at home. The draw for the play-offs takes place in Cairo on September 16.

Costa Ricans celebrate their emphatic win over the United States.

Costa Ricans celebrate their emphatic win over the United States.

In the CONCACAF qualifying group (North and Central America and Caribbean islands) Costa Rica beat the United States 3-1 to go top of the six-team group with three rounds to play. The US drop to second place but are still well placed to finish in the top three. Soccer giants Mexico, however, are in big trouble after losing 2-0 at home to Honduras, who are now 2 points above them in third place. Mexico play the US next and if they lose may have to vie with Panama for fourth place and possible qualification through an intercontinental play-off against Oceania group winners New Zealand.

In the nine-team South American group, second-placed Colombia beat fourth-placed Ecuador 1-0 to open up the gap between them to 5 points and join Argentina (who did not play) on 26 points with 3 games to play. Chile thumped Venezuela 3-0 to go on to 24 points but have just 2 games left to play. Ecuador (21 points with 3 games left to play) are still in fourth, but will be wary of Uruguay, who beat Peru away from home to move up to 19 points. Venezuela on 16 points with 2 games to play look to be out of contention, but Uruguay’s last three games are really tough ones, so anything could happen. The top four teams qualify, while the fifth has to play the winner of the Asian group play-off between Jordan and Uzbekistan. The first leg of that match in Amman finished 1-1 so Uzbekistan should fancy their chances with home ground advantage in the return match on Tuesday. Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea took the automatic qualifying spots from the Asian group.

Heads you win ... goalscorer Romania's Ciprian Marica (right) and Alexandru Maxim see eye to eye during the 3-0 win over Hungary in Bucharest.

Heads you win … Romania’s Ciprian Marica (right) and Alexandru Maxim see eye to eye during the 3-0 win over Hungary in Bucharest. Marica scored in the opener in the second minute of the game.

Which leaves Europe. There are nine groups and 13 places at stake (four of which will be done through play-offs between group runners-up) and there are still 2 or 3 matches to play in each group, so the permutations are complicated. Things should be clearer after the next round of matches on Tuesday night. Just briefly, last week Belgium, Germany and Italy took huge strides and are almost certain to be there, as are the Netherlands, despite being held to a surprise 2-2 draw in Estonia. Romania beat Hungary 3-0 at home and if they can beat Turkey at home on Wednesday or even draw should qualify for the play-offs, although Hungary are not out of it yet. Switzerland still look well placed despite blowing a 4-1 lead at home to Iceland to draw 4-4. But if Norway (11 points) beat Switzerland (15) at home on Tuesday then it will be down to the wire in that group. Israel lost ground on Portugal and Russia in their group and must win in Russia on Tuesday to stay in with a chance. Bosnia-Herzegovina slipped up by losing at home to Slovakia and are now level on 16 points with Greece in their group. If Slovakia beat Bosnia at home on Tuesday that group will be wide open, but the momentum is with Greece now. Anything can happen between four teams in Group H but the forthcoming match between Ukraine (14 points) and group co-leaders England (15) will be crucial. Lastly in Group I France dropped two points in a 0-0 draw in Georgia, allowing title holders Spain, who won 2-0 in Finland, to go 3 points clear. Finland now have little chance of overtaking France for a play-off place.

And as for Brazil, well, they walloped Australia 6-0 in a friendly in Brasilia, which suggests Australia are in for a torrid time of it come the real thing next year.

Join the Inna circle

Inna at Sopot International Song Festival, Pol...

Inna at the Sopot International Song Festival, Poland (8 August 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am trying to keep the memories of my holiday in Romania alive by playing some of the songs that I heard on the radio when I was there. Here is one I really liked by an outfit called Carla’s Dreams, who hail from Chisinau in Moldova, the former Soviet Republic on the eastern border of Romania (not to be confused with Moldavia, which is inside Romania).

The people from other parts of Romania think that Moldavians (and Moldovans too, I guess) speak Romanian with a kind of a country bumpkin nasal twang. When I tried to speak Romanian and pronounced words badly I was mocked for sounding like a Moldavian. So you might find the male lead singer’s accent a bit strange. Or he could have a Russian twang – Carla’s Dreams also sing in Russian. A lot of their stuff is interesting, even if it is not the sort of thing I would normally listen to.

This version of the song P.O.H.U.I, which features a guest appearance from Inna, has been very popular in Romania. According to this airplay chart here, it is now in its 23rd week in the top 100, having made the top three, and is lingering in the top 40 still.

There are also live versions of the song posted on YouTube, as well as the original sung without Inna. What is the song about? Well, thankfully someone has posted the English translation on YouTube. As you can see, the title of the song can be quite rude, although Romanians told me the rude bit is actually Russian. Contrary to the mood expressed in the song (about the mundanities of life getting you down) I find the tune quite uplifting and cheerful, in its own hum-along, sing-along way.

So, who is Inna, if you didn’t know. Apparently she is Eastern Europe’s wealthiest recording artist. Much of her material has been recorded in English and is aimed at the dance/club/house music market, and this is where she has made a name for herself, but I prefer it when she sings in Romanian. I particularly like this version of “Oare”.

Stay tuned for more Romanian favourites, plus some songs in Italian that I discovered too on my travels. 🙂